Apprentice in training

Addressing the skills shortages in WA

Challenges and solutions for meeting workforce demands in Western Australia

6 minute read
Apprentice in training

With a number of underutilised and skilled people available to work, it can leave many scratching their heads as to why we are currently facing a skills shortage in Western Australia.

From employees wanting to return to the workforce after a long break, mature-aged pensioners looking for part-time or casual work, people with a disability desiring to kick-start their career and more, how hard is it to hire and retain suitable staff? Or are employers being too choosy?

According to the Committee for Perth’s Race to the Top: Building the workforce for economic and social prosperity report, WA has experienced an increase in high-skilled jobs and a decline in low-skilled jobs over the past 20 years.

The report outlines the pivot towards transferrable skills across occupations and industries to meet emerging skills needs but, despite education and upskilling, disadvantaged jobseekers are still experiencing barriers to employment.

The cause of unemployment in WA

Despite an increase in job vacancies, the number of people with barriers to work has barely shifted in five years, according to the Anglicare Australia Jobs Availability Snapshot 2022.

The snapshot found for every entry-level job in WA, there are 15 active jobseekers, with three of those facing significant barriers to workforce entry.

Anglicare WA Research, Advocacy and Prevention Manager Shae Garwood said the data revealed the reality of the state’s jobs market, which shows no signs of change for the cohort of people locked out of the job market, regardless of the unemployment rate dropping to historic lows.

“More and more jobs are requiring qualifications and years of experience,” she said.

“Discrimination, stigma and employer unwillingness to make reasonable adjustments to their workplaces are keeping people out of jobs they could do.”

Dr Garwood said a mixture of practical barriers, including a lack of transport access, childcare or the right qualifications, and social barriers, such as a lack of confidence, experiencing fear or anxiety and requiring greater social support, were also creating blockages to employment for many people.

However, she said barriers to the workforce could be reduced via increased income support, ensuring access to high-quality childcare, tailored support and access to appropriate and meaningful training.

“Employers, along with the State Government and Federal Government, have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help break the cycle of entrenched unemployment by reducing barriers to entry-level jobs and increasing the skills of the people facing those barriers,” Dr Garwood said.

Finding the solution

APM Employment Services Project Manager Marina Chalmers highlighted the need for more starter roles and training in the workplace to address the obstacles.

"A person may have a dream job in mind, but it’s really important to take an entry-level position and work your way up to get your foot in the door,” she said.

“The flipside for employers is that they’re recruiting based on a positive attitude and a willingness to work, not necessarily skills.

“People can learn and be trained in those skill sets but, if you don’t have the right attitude and the desire to be there, it’s not going to work out.

“We’ve had plenty of examples where someone has started in an entry-level position and the employer sees their great attitude, passion and willingness to work; promoting them really quickly to a team leader or moving them into other roles.

“Everyone’s looking for a qualified barista who can make fantastic coffees and work really quickly, yet there’s none available. So, it’s a matter taking someone with a positive attitude and training them or going understaffed and suffering through it.

“Businesses need to look within and see who is already working there that they can train up. It will be easier to replace an entry-level role instead of a skilled position.”

Dr Garwood said people who had previously been in the workforce and were trying to return to work after a break may also not hold the relevant qualifications or skills needed for the workplace.

“It can be particularly challenging for women seeking to re-enter the workforce after taking time out to care for family,” she said.

“Normalise flexible working arrangements for both men and women to accommodate caring responsibilities.

“Consider flexible recruitment to encourage applicants who possess the motivation and personality characteristics to do the job but who may not yet possess the formal qualifications needed.

“Provide on-the-job training to allow people to upskill while working so that they can gain the skills and qualifications needed while earning an income.”

Dr Garwood said reducing the harsh compliance regime that jobseekers were forced to endure would open up space for them to participate in meaningful training and create genuine pathways into employment.

“The more people we can upskill, the greater the chances they will eventually find sustainable employment,” she said.

“This would go a long way to addressing barriers for people who have been long-term unemployed, including women.”

Although WA is fortunate to have a wide pool of skilled applicants, Ms Chalmers said there needed to be changes in how companies recruit.

“A very fixed mind can be a detriment to businesses,” she said.

“Often, the expectation is that employers want the perfect fit, instead of making alterations to suit people’s needs.”

As a disability employment services provider, Ms Chalmers said APM assisted businesses in additional job training, upskilling and any office modifications or equipment.

“It’s important to look at what someone can do, instead of what they can’t do,” she said.

“If they can do 60-70 per cent of the work and be trained in the remaining 30 per cent or 40 per cent, that is something businesses should look into.

“Similarly if someone says they can’t lift a certain number of kilograms due to a back injury; instead of an employer immediately saying ‘no’ to them, they could think of getting a trolley or other equipment so the job can still be completed.”

Government measures to provide support

With Australia facing its most significant skills shortage in decades, a spokesperson for the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations said the government was supporting skills and training to increase opportunities for more Australians.

“In the quarter to September 2022, WA recorded the highest recruitment difficulty rate across the nation (75 per cent), followed by Victoria (74 per cent) and New South Wales (71 per cent),” the spokesperson said.

“WA employers reported their most common difficulty in recruitment was lack of applicants in general (mentioned by 38 per cent of employers with difficulty), a lack of suitable applicants (23 per cent) and because of the conditions of the job (21 per cent).

“The 2022-23 Federal Budget delivers on the government’s commitment to build a stronger economy and help give more Australians the skills and training they need today and to harness the jobs and opportunities of the future.”

Some of the opportunities to address the skills shortage in the country through the Federal Budget include an additional $12.9 million being invested to establish Jobs and Skills Australia and contributing $550 million to a $1 billion 12-month National Skills Agreement, which will support access to 180,000 fee-free TAFE and vocational education and training (VET) places from January 2023, jointly funded with states and territories as part of a commitment to 480,000 places over four years.

“The encouraging take-up of fee-free TAFE and VET courses following the agreement between the Commonwealth and Western Australian Government is a positive sign that people are ready to train for vital industries that will be in demand now and in the future,” Federal Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor said.

“Whether it’s in renewable energy, the care sector, technology and digital, hospitality and tourism, construction, agriculture or defence, fee-free TAFE and VET removes financial barriers for Western Australians to access training to upskill or reskill for jobs in priority sectors.

“Our end goal is to provide greater opportunity for Western Australians to have secure and rewarding work.”